Should Christians Support Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning and Julian Assange?

Christians have been passionately debating gay marriage, abortion, evolution, school prayer, immigration and gun control for years, but for a religion that is founded on the virtues of truth, honesty and transparency, why have followers of Christ been silently ignoring Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning and Julian Assange?

These three men have been at the center of a culture war that Christians have been almost completely absent from. Edward Snowden recently made worldwide headlines by outing the NSA’s various surveillance tactics, and Bradley Manning helped Julian Assange—the founder of Wikileaks—release government documents to the public, and they’ve all become the famous faces of privacy rights and the freedom of information.

These polarizing figures are considered both heroes and villains, and their personal lifestyles definitely shouldn’t serve as role models for the Christian faith. But underneath the smear campaigns, their personal failures, obnoxious tactics and bravado, there is an underlining attempt by them to reveal the truth.

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This is something Christians can relate to. Our entire belief system is based on the principle of truth—that God is real; Jesus died and rose again, and saved us from our sins.

Our churches and faith communities constantly attempt to help us be strong enough to personally reveal our innermost and darkest secrets. We use confession booths, accountability partners, pastoral counseling, small groups and prayer chains in an effort to be transparent and open about our transgressions. We set up systems of checks and balances and safeguards in an effort to maintain our integrity—we strive to reveal our truest selves.

In many ways, on a national corporate level, this is what these men are also trying to do: promote transparency. The revelations are often ugly and embarrassing. Wikileaks has exposed human rights abuses, dubious wartime practices, the death of innocent people, government corruption, assassination plots and the details behind various environmental disasters (among other things).

Whistleblowers are often seen as the lowest forms of life, backstabbers who deserve to be persecuted and ridiculed. But Christians need to be careful about pointing fingers. We’re still recovering from a widespread sex abuse scandal that rocked the Catholic Church, a scandal that largely resulted from people refusing to admit, believe and reveal the truth.

Individuals who whispered about abuses were quieted, dissenters were removed and informers were discredited. Years passed and an entire system of abuse went unobstructed, hurting thousands of people.

The suppression of truth—to the detriment of millions of people around the world—happens on a daily basis.

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Also by Stephen: The Disturbing Trend of Christian Self-Deprecation

There are many reasons the Christian community has not addressed this controversy. Besides being a very politically, socially and morally complicated matter, Christians have traditionally been very patriotic, and it’s especially hard to support men who have been condemned by the government as traitors and criminals. Regardless of our personal opinions concerning Snowden, Manning and Assange, we must start striving for the truth.

As American Christians, we naturally want to see ourselves in the best possible light, and the leaking of information that portrays our country as weak and cruel is often hard to accept—but we need to start treating the information seriously. These leaks aren’t just crazy unsubstantiated conspiracy theories, and they often contain substantive information pertaining to very important social justice issues.

Facing the truth means dealing with conflict, complex messes and deep pain, but it’s often necessary and healthy. It holds us accountable, promotes holiness and maturity, and is essential to being a Christian. We are called to serve, sacrifice and love the world around us, but in order to do so we must pursue the truth and be willing to accept it. Are we?

Stephen Mattson has written for Relevant, Sojourners, and The Burnside Writer’s Collective. He graduated from the Moody Bible Institute and is currently on staff at Northwestern College in St. Paul, MN. Follow him on Twitter @mikta.

Photo Credit: Kin Cheung/AP

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About the Author

Stephen Mattson

Stephen MattsonStephen Mattson has written for Relevant, Sojourners, and The Burnside Writer's Collective. He graduated from the Moody Bible Institute and is currently on staff at University of Northwestern – St. Paul. Follow him on Twitter @mikta and on his personal blog stephenjmattson.comView all posts by Stephen Mattson →

  • 22044

    A government that conducts its engagements properly has no fear of transparency or accountability.
    I agree with your points, Mr. Mattson.

  • Mark Munger

    Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar and unto God the things that are God’s. The question is where does a nations classified information fall in this debate?

  • phineaus

    . 2 Everything that is secret will be brought out into the open. Everything that is hidden will be uncovered. 3 What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight. What you have whispered to someone behind closed doors will be shouted from the rooftops.

  • jonathan starkey

    There are what they call 4 Cardinal virtues: Prudence, Courage, Righteousness and Temperance.

    Prudence is called the Father of the virtues because it is good judgement, and good judgement is what the other 3 sort of flow from.

    Each virtue has a vice to the hi and a vice to the lo, and in the middle is Christ likeness.

    Prudence – vice hi = sly, artful, cunning, not straight forward (snake)
    Prudence – vice lo = senseless, foolish

    Courage – vice hi = reckless, Audacity
    Courage – vice lo = cowardice

    Righteous – vice hi = exacting, oppresive
    Righteous – vice lo = Sinful, wicked

    Temperance vice hi – intoxication, lack of moderation
    Temperance vice lo – Lack of sensibility, depondent

    All that to say we don’t have all the facts, especially when it comes to security. I don’t want all the facts because it is security. So how can you expect people to make a definitive answer.

    2: Did Snowden use good judgment, was he foolish? The vice of reckless courage should not be celebrated. Did he put people in danger?

    Recklessness is more commonly regarded as a vice, this same soldier may be a liability to his own side, or get himself killed for no benefit. Literally, though, recklessness is a disregard for the consequences of one’s actions. Recklessness should not be confused with bravery. Although the two could sometimes be connected, the latter is usually applied to cases where a person displays a more reasonable reckoning of the inherent danger, rather than none at all.

    Did he use temperance? I mean his girlfriend is a stripper right? Does he have any concern for society, or is he just careless?

    Again as a person who deals with definitives? How do you expect me to answer.

    I’m not a zealot. I’m not a fool, and I’m not trying to take down our government.

    Though I want it to have integrity.

    • jonathan starkey

      I think he should stop running, and come back like a man. If he really felt integrity about what he did. Then we would have some of these answers. Not much of a martyr, if you can’t bear the cross.

  • Digger

    I am glad our government keeps secrets. Many of those secrets protect human life. Many of our secrets help us prevent our enemies from inflicting harm upon us. Even Jesus kept secrets. He repeatedly warned people not to tell others of the miracles He performed. He routinely talked in parables when there were people around other than His disciples.
    As with just about every issue, there is a balance we should try to achieve. We should not support the betrayal of government secrets when the betrayed brings harm to others. We should work to expose those secrets that hide corruption and governmental excesses. We should stop trying to keep the Gospel secret. Sadly, we’re pretty good at that.

  • cordas

    Jesus was a whistle blower . Spoke out on the corrupt church/rule. Gave up everything for it. Sound familiar?

  • Damien

    Firstly i’d like to say that i am not a christian, though i was raised one and by one. I have always felt an affinity to the primary message of the new testament; that of loving, giving, equality for the bettering of society rather than the individual. I simply do not believe in god, but rather the power of humanity to enact such ideals.

    This said, i would like to credit the commenter below, Starkey, by whom the point of Cardinal virtue and vice was raised.

    Reading this made me wonder whether it is fair to call temperance into play simply because his girlfriend is a stripper, i wouldn’t think of this as a bad thing though i realise some would. Is it wrong for him to love someone simply because you disagree with their occupation? More over i propose that he has acted in all accounts with temperance, i do not see that he has put anyone in danger by revealing what he has. Certainly more could have been revealed of the more nefarious acts of governmental espionage. No person will be harmed by the knowledge that government intrudes upon personal privacy under the guise of national security. In this instance is it fair to suggest that intimate knowledge of one’s conversations, transactions, movements are rightly the concern of the government. What of the activist who disagrees with his government, has he not a right to his view and is he not right to fear the consequence of such a view given the circumstance? Is it wrong to tell a man that he is being watched?

    I suggest that it is moot to consider that he acted with vice in concern to righteousness, he has not oppressed any one. Bradley Manning acted righteously to reveal oppression, returned to bear his cross and has been rewarded with oppression, torture and imprisonment by the government who would call him a traitor. A traitor to whom? To a corrupt institution acting without integrity. Should he have let this action continue in silence, simply because of the colour of his passport? It seems that many people think so, that national borders should overrule human compassion. Is it not this vulgar statism that divides people to the extent that war making is a higher priority than education, healthcare and technology? To be a traitor to a system that calls a righteous act treason should be an implication upon the system rather than the man.

    The charges, as i can see, levelled at these men are those of cowardice (courage) and cunning (prudence). Certainly Manning cannot be considered a coward, he flew in the face of the scariest organisations in the world, the military and the intelligence agencies, and returned to be imprisoned. For which he was shown no mutual respect of law as he was isolated, stripped even of his clothes, and given no trial for 2 years. This man is a martyr, but should everyman who wishes to speak out against injustice be forced to be a martyr? The prerequisite for doing an act of good should not be the loss of liberty, lifetime imprisonment or even death. Would you not wish to avoid certain imprisonment for what you believed to be a good deed or do you consider these men deluded in the morality of their actions? Assange and Snowden will bear their cross regardless of whether or not they are made to stand trial for a kangaroo court that will undoubtedly convict them of aiding the enemy. Assange will be confined to the Ecuadorian embassy until he is given up, or Ecuador are pressured into his release. Snowden will wait in the limbo of a Moscow airport with the knowledge that he will be hunted for the rest of his life. All three men must live with the knowledge that in attempting reveal deep injustice, they are no longer free to move, to live, to be happy. They are indentured to the war machine called security and the tyranny called justice.

    You ask if a Christian should support Snowden, Manning and Assange? The answer is no, it should not require your religious belief, merely your humanity.

  • DeadEye Von Blur

    no, never, because Christians don’t question and are often considered for security positions, I know.

  • yo opino

    There is a simple reason: priorities.

    It is very unlikely Christians will use their energies in this kind of topics when there is, from our perspective, the biggest massacre in the history of mankind taking place: Abortion. Fighting to save the millions of people killed by abortion is more pressing than a government spying on us. We already expect them to be oppressors and are not surprised by persecution (Such as the one Obama is starting.)

    Defending human beings and the education of our children (the future of Christianity itself) is more pressing.

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